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Will Canadians be motivated to complete their census by listening to Spotify playlists?

Reviewing the Canadian government’s attempt to make this year’s census fun
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SHERENE ALMJAWER/THE VARSITY
SHERENE ALMJAWER/THE VARSITY

There is absolutely nothing in the world that gets me more excited to fill out a census than Nickelback.

Luckily for myself and for all Canadians who feel similarly — all of them, I imagine — the Canadian government has released a 2021 census soundtrack featuring Canadian artists for us to “jam out to” while completing this year’s census.

I didn’t understand its purpose at first. Obviously, this was an attempt to make people — young people in particular — excited to fill out an incredibly boring government document. Using music, which is generally an art form that all demographics enjoy, is a smart strategy.

Although I should be wary of youth engagement projects and the ways in which they’re essentially manipulating me, I’m not a hater. I couldn’t have been more excited to delve into these playlists.

I was shocked to see how much work was put into their curation. There were several target demographics of listeners in mind, made evident from the inclusion of a wide range of songs, most of which I didn’t recognize. I was expecting ten songs, nine of which would feature Shawn Mendes with a hint of Justin Bieber. Instead, I discovered that the creator of these playlists had a much broader definition of the term ‘Canadian artist’ than most.

I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in the chosen artists. Whether it was performative or genuine, I applaud the curator for including two separate playlists with over 60 Indigenous artists between them. Considering that the Canadian government’s website is relatively large, I assume it has a high number of visitors. It’s nice to see Indigenous artists who don’t necessarily receive widespread support in the music industry be included in a project that will potentially earn them new fans. At the very least, this inclusion boosts Indigenous voices and presents new music and perspectives to those who might not be familiar with them.

It’s also refreshing to see newer, smaller artists be given a chance to shine instead of only seeing the same names we’ve grown far too used to hearing on the radio. I was surprised to see Justin Bieber’s name appear only once, but I’m glad for that; while well-known musicians popped up occasionally — The Weeknd, Alessia Cara, and Shania Twain, to name a few — there were several lesser known and indie artists I was delighted to see. For example, I was thrilled that Half Moon Run, a three-piece band from Montreal and one of my favourite bands of all time, was added to the “Front row freedom” playlist.

It’s fair to say that whoever curated these playlists made an attempt to add song choices for everyone. There are separate playlists for country, rap and hip-hop, and country hits. There’s a ‘90s to 2000s playlist for millennials seeking a throwback. There’s an alternative and folk playlist in case people want to feel a sense of calm while checking boxes on their census. There’s a playlist for modern pop that, while criminally lacking enough Avril Lavigne songs for some unknown reason, redeems itself by including Carly Rae Jepsen. There’s a playlist aptly titled “Golden Age” that contains Canadian rock classics you’re sure to remember. There are even two playlists of French artists for French speakers and for the rest of us to rock out to bilingually. There is definitely something for every music listener, avid or casual, young or old.

Though I originally expected census playlists to be another lame attempt to relate to the youth, I appreciate the effort put into curating them. However, I will say that I spent more time scrolling through the playlists and thinking “Oh, this artist is Canadian?” than I did filling out any of this year’s census questions. So, while the Canadian government didn’t exactly accomplish what they intended, in my case, I’ve found that these playlists are still a fun way to find new music and support Canadian artists at the same time.